What is Coffee Cupping?

Similar to the job of wine sommeliers, coffee cupping is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of a brewed coffee. This enjoyable process allows people to sample the varying tastes, tones, and flavors in a brewed cup of roasted grounds to then evaluate and compare among other brews.

Generally, coffee cuppers are looking for a small handful of different characteristics. What do the grounds smell like when dry? How about when wet? Is the flavor fresh and lively, or sour and acidic? How does the brewed blend taste in your mouth? Is it full and rich, or flat and thin? Are the flavors fruity, nutty, grassy, or like caramel or chocolate? And finally, how does your mouth feel once the cup is finished? Does the brew leave a sweet or sour taste? How about smooth, burnt, silky, or dry?

Because the process of coffee cupping starts with smelling the dry grounds, cuppers begin their observations before the hot water is added. After taking note of this smell, the boiled water is added directly to each cup, as well as to the spoons, so that cuppers can immediately observe the smells of the wet grounds. Cuppers are encouraged to brew their cups this way because it is the easiest method to extract the various coffee notes at one time, giving off a strong wave of the various notes. After the brewed blend sits for 1-2 minutes, the majority of grounds will sink to the bottom while a thin layer will float to the top. Using the preheated spoon, the coffee from the top layer is scooped and tasted, allowing for the most robust burst of coffee aromas. Once cooled, cuppers take a big slurp of the coffee from the spoon and aspirate it evenly over the entire tongue and into the throat and nasal passage.

Comparable to wine tasting, coffee cupping gives individuals a chance to understand the varying flavors of a brewed cup of coffee. You don’t have to be a professional to give cupping a try, and the next time you enter a coffee shop, you’ll know exactly what to order.